GE threat: Pass state budget and we'll leave Fairfield HQ
General Electric, which reported $148 billion in revenue last year, indicated Monday it could move its headquarters from Fairfield -- and entirely out of Connecticut -- if the new state budget passes as proposed.
The conglomerate, based at an Easton Turnpike corporate campus, issued a statement Monday in reaction to news that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state legislators were near agreement on a two-year, $40 billion budget that would include significant tax increases, including on corporations.
"Reports that Connecticut officials intend to raise taxes by another $750 million are truly discouraging," the statement read. "Retroactively raising taxes again on Connecticut's residents, businesses and services makes businesses, including our own, and citizens seriously consider whether it makes any sense to continue to be located in this state."
GE employs about 5,700 people in Connecticut -- including about 800 at its Fairfield headquarters -- making it one of the largest employers in the state.
The corporation, which for years has been the town's largest taxpayer, led the list again last year with local property valued at $76,541,780.
A spokesman declined to comment beyond the Monday statement.
Joseph J. McGee, vice president for public policy and programs at the Business Council of Fairfield County, called GE's statement "extraordinary."
"Even going back to the income tax debate, I have never seen such a statement from GE," he said. "Obviously, they are very concerned, and I would pay very close attention to that if I were in the Legislature."
He said GE's statement adds to Connecticut's reputation as being unfriendly to business. "If you look at all these ratings that come out, clearly it's out there that Connecticut is less than the top of the list for business development," he said. "This just adds fuel to that fire."
State Rep. John Frey, R-Ridgefield, said he spoke with a constituent who is a GE executive over the weekend, who indicated that the international giant could leave the state.
"That's terrifying," Frey said. "We just cannot continue this, and I don't think it's an idle threat," Frey said during the afternoon meeting of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, where the tax side of the budget was reviewed and approved along party lines.
"They've downsized, and they no longer have the number of people as four or five years ago," Timpanelli said. "That's a dangerous sign for the state of Connecticut. This is one of most successful companies in the world, and they made a decision to have their headquarters right here in Connecticut. It really says a lot that they're making this statement today."
Timpanelli said the proposed budget sends the wrong message. "If we adopt the budget as proposed, this is once again a disaster for the state of Connecticut," he said. "It says we're anti-business, anti-jobs, anti-growth."
He said the budget's positives don't outweigh the problems.
"I understand the desire from some people to vote for what is in many ways a very progressive budget," he said. "There are some things in there that are very much needed, like tax reform and investment in infrastructure, which I very much support. But it sends the wrong message that we don't want businesses to stay here, to grow here, to expand here."
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said concerns go beyond whether the company might leave.
"The bigger concern is that companies won't want to expand," he said. "That's the short-term effect. If someone is going to add employees in Connecticut or somewhere else, if they perceive Connecticut as too expensive, they may make different short-term decisions."
He said GE, which is the town's No. 1 taxpayer, provides many benefits to Fairfield. "GE is a great corporate citizen, and they've been tremendously supportive, not only of our town but surrounding towns," including Bridgeport, he said.
"Also, informally, I can't tell you how many coaches and tutors we have from GE, people serving on different boards and commissions," he said. "We get a tremendous amount of support from the GE talent pool, and they go over and above."